The lack of success for the Ohio State men’s basketball team has worn on the minds of both fans and coach Thad Matta. An 0-4 start to conference play painted a dark path ahead for the Buckeyes unless something drastic happened.
Then, in OSU’s last game against one of the usual powerhouses of the Big Ten in Michigan State, sophomore guard JaQuan Lyle and the rest of the team finally found a groove. Matta said the win has given him plenty of excitement and things to think about in moving forward.
When asked if he had gotten any sleep since Sunday, he said, “No, I never do though.”
The task does not get any easier for OSU, as standing in front of the Scarlet and Gray is Nebraska, a team that took the Buckeyes to overtime last season. Even with a 9-8 record, the Cornhuskers are not a team to take lightly after going 3-0 in their first three conference games.
“Their guard play — I mean, you have two guys averaging 20-plus a game,” Matta said. “They do a great job of — I think (No.) 5 is shooting 56 percent from 3 in Big Ten play. And (Tai) Webster has been there a long time.”
Senior guard Tai Webster is averaging 18.3 points this season, along with 5.2 rebounds per game. So far, he is averaging 21.4 points in Big Ten games, as well as 2.6 steals.
The biggest struggle OSU could face is not related to its performance on the court, but rather the fallout after finally reaching a goal that has been set. Teams can easily be content, and lose focus on the task ahead.
Redshirt junior center Trevor Thompson said he is confident OSU will not have a hangover from Sunday’s win.
“Easy … winning at Ohio State is the standard,” he said. “It definitely was good to get a win (on Sunday), but we realize that we still have a lot of work to do. We still have to keep playing better and keep getting better as a team. I just think that with that win, it kind of shows that when we compete, good things will happen.”
Thompson would get a tough draw in the paint matching up with sophomore forward Ed Morrow Jr., who averaged 7.9 rebounds this season before injuring his foot. Morrow is out indefinitely, and takes away a far portion of Nebraska’s rebounding.
Sophomore guard C.J. Jackson came into Columbus as an above average 3-point shooter, nailing 101 shots from deep while at junior college Eastern Florida State. So far, he has struggled this year to find his rhythm, shooting just 21.1 percent from outside.
Although he hit a key shot from behind the arc late in Sunday’s game, he is still looking to find some consistency from that range. Even with the lack of scoring from Jackson, he said he is not concerned with how he has struggled, and said he won’t let it affect his play against Nebraska.
“I’m not really too concerned about it,” he said. “I know eventually my shots will fall. I have confidence in myself and my teammates have confidence in me. I have to put the work in and I will do that. But it’s not like I’m thinking about it.”
Nebraska is coming off two-straight conference losses, and will likely be a tough matchup for a Buckeyes team in the middle of a quick turnaround of away games. In just a week, OSU will play another game away from the comfort of Value City Arena.
Matta said his players have to remain focused, but he is also putting lofty expectations on himself and his coaching staff. Overall, he has taken much of the criticism for the slow start, but every coach on the sideline deserves scrutiny.
“I hope our guys are man enough, tough enough, to say we’ve had some bumps in the road and smart enough to fix them,” he said. “When you’re playing these quick turnarounds, we got to get some staples in our program in terms of what we have to do. We got to be active. We got to know where we’re helping, where we’re not helping.”
OSU faces Nebraska in Lincoln on Thursday at 9 p.m.